Documentation at OTC 2021

This is a follow-up article to our Report on Trends at OTC 2021. It hones in on the documentation that vendors provided at OTC 2021.

Introduction

General trends

The metric

The awards

Introduction

I visited 469 vendor booths on the floor of OTC 2021. I gathered data on all of them, and picked up documents from 30, so that I could analyze what’s changed since I last attended OTC, and what trends are catching on. I picked up a wide sampling of documents, though I did not use any sort of structured methodology for sampling.

QR codes

More companies are embedding QR codes directly in their documentation. Most, like American Personnel Resources, used a single QR code, while one or two (such as Zaetric) used several. Combining QR codes with printed documentation allows you to give visitors both a digital and physical takeaway, which combines the benefits of both mediums in one package.

Asian reliance on big, beautiful booklets

When I first visited OTC over a decade ago, it seemed like there were big stacks of big documents on every table. No longer. While most companies (88%) still provide printed docs, those docs are generally smaller.

That’s not true for much of the Asian documentation I saw, at least as far as Japan and China go. Wison provided a gorgeous book with 28 8.5 x 11 pages. The Inpex corporate brochure weighed in at a comparatively light 8 8.5 x 11 pages. Pages that were 8.5 x 11 were the rule for the Chinese and Japanese documents I saw or sampled. That was still the the most popular size for other companies, though there were plenty of exceptions (about 75% of printed docs used the 8.5 x 11 format).

While the Asian docs set a high standard for beauty, the quality of the English writing within them lagged behind all other groups. This is traditional, and likely stems from English’s heightened dissimilarity to Japanese and Chinese in comparison with, say, Italian. Still, a quick edit by a native speaker could eliminate most of the gap. Regardless, the textual aberrations did not overcome the otherwise high quality and aesthetic value of the Asian docs.

Re-use

Wison’s gorgeous offering excepted, very few companies seem to have created new documents for OTC this year. When I saw publication dates, they were typically from several years ago. With this in mind, unless the information in your docs is time-bound, it’s probably best not to include a publication date. Regardless, including a QR code in the doc itself helps to ensure that a visitor has access to the latest information on your company.

The metric

I rated the 30 documents based on 4 categories:

Organization: Does my eye know where to go? Can I find information by scanning instead of having to read every line?

Graphics: How high-quality and relevant are the graphics? Do they make me want to open up the doc?

Text: Is the text written in plain English? Does it flow clearly, with some pop? Is the size appropriate?

Material: How does it feel in my hand? Is it resistant to damage?

I also captured the page size used for each document, and the total number of pages, including covers.

Trends in the text itself

I was pleased to see that passive voice writing only obscured the content of a couple of documents. This has traditionally been a problem in writing related to the oil and gas industry, so it’s good to see that problem assuage.

However, a few other writing problems plagued a high volume of documents:

Extraneous capitalization (37%): It’s correct to capitalize proper nouns. However, when you begin to capitalize every word you view as “important”, capitalization starts losing its meaning. Use this tool sparingly, and only when necessary.

Egregious typos or grammatical errors (30%): We all make mistakes. But when sentences become hard to read due to the volume or severity of writing errors, we need to go to an editor. If companies don’t have one in-house, they can get a qualified technical editor to make sure their docs are free of embarrassing errors. Not paying, for example, $100 to make sure a flyer or website won’t embarrass a small business, seems like a needless risk.

Non-standardized bullets (27%): Basically, every bullet in a bulleted list should start with the same part of speech (such as a noun or verb). This ensures that the person reading your document can move through your list with minimal mental effort. If you go back and forth between leading off with verbs, nouns, numbers, etc., the reader has to shift their mental logic around, making it more likely that they will misunderstand – or discard – your document.

In addition, a couple of companies still used double-spaces after periods, a practice that was generally discarded decades ago (as we no longer use typewriters).

The awards

Here are the Documentation Awards for OTC 2021:

Most eye-catching

Wison developed their 28-page brochure especially for OTC. They took the time required to craft a visual masterpiece. The vivid cover layout was followed by a vast array of beautiful images, making the booklet worthy of a spot on the coffee table in your living room.

Best use of color

Roxtec didn’t just have some of the most useful demos on the exhibit floor. Their muted, mesmerizing blue color scheme adds delight as you travel through their 40-page tome.

Most innovative layout

There is a tie! First, Biosolvit’s economical layout and paper choice scream “Recycle!” And that’s perfect, since their product materials come from discarded biomass. Ingenius.

The Ghana Investment Promotion Centre’s passport-style booklet made me chuckle when I picked it up. The booklet feels great, and is packed with relevant information and excellent photography. What a great hook!

Best writing

Ah, this one is near and dear to my heart. There were several top competitors, mostly in the computer technology space (think TeamViewer, though Roxtec scored high for a physical product company).

I’m going to give the nod to Pandata Tech. The writing in their 1-page flyer was clear, direct, and energetic, providing a potent blend of information and presentation. Way to go, guys!

Congrats to all the companies who brought well-organized, beautiful, creative, and well-written docs to OTC in 2021! May 2022 be even better!

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